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Mayor, Governor Push Competing Education Agendas

Tuesday, March 04, 2014 - 05:57 PM

Mayor de Blasio at Albany rally for universal pre-k, joined by union leaders and parents (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke at competing rallies in Albany Tuesday, in a highly visible sign of how far apart they remain over their competing education agendas, particularly how to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and how to support charter schools.

The mayor joined state lawmakers, union members and families at a rally that was planned for weeks. He urged them to pressure state lawmakers to approve a state budget that allows New York City to raise taxes on its wealthiest residents as a way to fund universal pre-k and after-school programs for middle schoolers.

"We've built a movement over these last months and now this movement, it's time for it to crescendo," he said,speaking a few blocks away from the Capitol. "It's time for it to be felt here in Albany."

Cuomo has said he wants to fund pre-k statewide through his own funding stream, and without a tax hike. He chose not to attend the pre-k rally in favor of speaking at a more recently planned, and bigger event held right in front of the state Capitol organized by charter school supporters.

"I am committed to ensuring charter schools have the financial capacity, the physical space and the governor's support to thrive and to grow," Cuomo said, to thunderous applause. "We will save charter schools!"

Some charter supporters said they were concerned about de Blasio's proposal to charge rent to the wealthier charter school networks that get school space for free. The governor has not yet said how he may help; his comments were meant to allay the charters' fears.

Another point of contention: de Blasio reversed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to open three charter schools inside regular public school buildings this fall, although he left intact dozens of other plans for new or expanded schools, including charters, to proceed as scheduled. Cuomo took the opportunity to praise the Success Academy charter school network. Both of the Senate co-leaders attended as well: Republican Dean Skelos and Democrat Jeff Klein.

For his part, de Blasio ignored the charter rally and stuck to his talking points. He was joined by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who will play a central role in budget negotiations with the governor.

"I don't care about the political baseball or inside baseball being played here," said Silver. "I don't care who takes credit when we win this fight for full day pre-k."

Klein attended both rallies. At the pre-k event, he argued that the tax is the only way to sustainably fund early childhood education, adding "those who aren't in the five boroughs should butt out and let us fund universal pre-k the way we want it."

There is widespread speculation that the mayor's plan is doomed to fail without the critical support of Cuomo or Senate Republicans, but that by continuing to lobby so visibly he might be able to persuade them to add more money to the state budget by the April 1 deadline. 

The two men met privately after the dueling rallies, a discussion which de Blasio characterized it as “productive," but offered no details. You can see a video of his Q&A here. Cuomo did not speak to reporters.

 

With reporting by Brigid Bergin and Karen DeWitt

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